The 30 most hated people in football
We all love to hate. Football is an entertainment history, and sometimes it resembles a cheap pantomime with two-dimensional heroes (your striker) and villains (their big defender). And mixed in with rightful disdain for the cheats, chancers and chairmen in this list, there's a big dollop of pure, unadulterated envy.
Yep, while every entry in our countdown of football’s most hated people have drawn major dislike for a variety of reasons, some of them are also loved in equal measure.
Please note: this isn’t a list of people personally despised by the people of FourFourTwo, merely a reflection of those who stir up opprobrium in the game. Don’t blame us if your idealised icon is here as well as tattooed on your thigh (although it would be an odd choice to have Mike Dean inked on your leg).
30. Alex Ferguson
Resentment is commonplace in football and few things attract it more than prolonged periods of success. The red knight was begrudged by jealous onlookers and even his own camp weren’t always the Scot’s biggest admirers: he used the hair-dryer treatment on Paul Ince, Peter Schmeichel, Jaap Stam, David Beckham and Roy Keane, among others.
Outside the dressing-room door, the manager had no issue picking fights with anyone, be they journalists (“f***ing idiots”), Real Madrid (“wouldn’t sell that mob a virus”) or even the Old Trafford atmosphere (“like a funeral”). Then there were his infamous managerial spats: many became the butt of endless jokes and jibes, but few endured more than the trio of Kevin Keegan, Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez.
29. Mike Dean
You’d be hard-pressed to name many popular referees – it’s hardly in the job description – but few attract hatred quite like Mike Dean. This is probably down to the perceived enjoyment he seems to derive from making tough calls.
Dean’s flamboyance and self-assurance can come across as arrogance and his quirky mannerisms have fast seen him become an internet sensation. At least he guarantees matchday entertainment like few other officials and for better or worse, he’s often centre stage on any given Super Sunday.
28. Joe Kinnear
It’s hard to pick a particular low-point in the downhill slalom of Mike Ashley’s Newcastle tenure, but it may well have been hiring Joe Kinnear to replace Kevin Keegan. Appointed in 2008, the ex-Wimbledon gaffer was soon hosting a spectacular press conference in which he called one journalist a “c***” and swore no less than 52 times. He won four of his 20 games in charge, losing to teams including Sunderland, Fulham, Wigan, Blackburn and Hull before leaving due to ill health.
If that wasn’t bad enough, in 2013 he was brought back as director of football. He mispronounced several players’ names, alienated Charles N’Zogbia (or ‘Insomnia’), sold Yohan Cabaye (or ‘Kebab’) and failed to make a single permanent signing in the two transfer windows before he left.
27. Silvio Berlusconi
The four-time prime minister of Italy and 31-year owner of AC Milan has faced more than 30 court cases. He was convicted in 2013 of tax fraud; among other charges which have been brought to court and either successfully defended, overruled or overturned on appeal are false accounting, bribery, embezzlement and paying for sex with an underage prostitute.
His three-decade stint at the helm of Milan saw mass success built upon vast riches and a revolving door to the manager’s office. As cut-throat in football as he was in politics, the populist leader didn’t care who he upset en route to the top.
26. Dennis Wise
The pity with Dennis Wise is that he was actually quite a good player, but is remembered as a niggly little Napoleon for clubs including Chelsea, Millwall and Crazy Gang-era Wimbledon – hardly a trio likely to gain popular favour.
His ability with a football was such that he maintained his Stamford Bridge place despite an influx of classy continentals, but he also had a talent for confrontation – and not just on the pitch. A three-month prison sentence for assaulting a taxi driver was overturned on appeal, but he was sacked by Leicester for punching a team-mate.
25. Roman Abramovich
The Chelsea owner became a mind-bogglingly rich man in the post-Soviet scramble toward capitalism, a fiscal free-for-all which saw the mineral riches of Russia fund a small oligarchy of frighteningly wealthy individuals.
Abramovich has come a long way from selling imported rubber ducks via his Moscow apartment (imagine if Del Boy Trotter was a former Soviet Army soldier of Lithuanian Jewish heritage) to funding one of the biggest spending sprees in British football history. The Blues’ success that he funded paved the way for other takeovers, changing the British game forever.
24. Kevin Muscat
Muscat played as if he had a personal vendetta against every opponent. One bone-crunching challenge ended the career of Matty Holmes; the Charlton player was initially told his leg, broken in four places, may need to be amputated.Another tackle on Christophe Dugarry was dubbed an “act of brutality” by France manager Roger Lemerre; Ian Wright called him a “lowlife”, Martin Grainger dubbed him “the most hated man in football” and his Millwall chief executive called one stamping incident “totally unacceptable”. His most notorious tackle, however, came in a 2011 Melbourne derby on Adrian Zahra, earning the Crawley-born hit-man an eight-game ban.
23. Richard Scudamore
It’s unlikely that the common fan would declare of love of the Premier League’s chief executive, whoever it might be. Essentially the job is to hype and monetise the world’s most-watched football competition: hardly one to endear you to the masses.
However, Scudamore hasn’t helped himself with globe-baiting ideas like Game 39 (an extra fixture to be played in a key foreign market), and he was perhaps lucky to keep his job after the 2014 leaking of several sexist emails.
22. Graeme Souness
Depending on your age you may think of Souness primarily as a player, a manager or a pundit. Whichever it is, though, you don’t have to look far to find confrontation and controversy.
The relish with which he unleashes provocative opinions echoes the pleasure he seemed to take in some tasty on-field battles as a midfield general for Liverpool and Scotland. A teacup-throwing disciplinarian of a gaffer, he notoriously celebrated a derby win at Fenerbahce by provocatively planting a Galatasaray flag in their centre circle, prompting a near-riot.
21. Andoni Goikoetxea
You don’t get called Butcher of Bilbao for your appreciation of sliced meats. Ask Diego Maradona, who had his ankle broken from behind: “I just felt the impact, heard the sound – like a piece of wood cracking.”
El Diez wasn’t even the first Barcelona fantasista maimed by Goikotxea: two years earlier the Athletic centre-back had shredded Bernd Schuster’s knee ligaments. And when the Butcher faced Maradona again in the 1984 Copa del Rey final, he kicked the Argentine in the chest during a mass brawl, receiving an initial 18-match ban.
20. Paolo Di Canio
Di Canio divides opinions like few other players: a Premier League legend to some, a fascist sympathiser to others. His push on referee Paul Alcock, which resulted in a comical slow-motion fall and an 11-game ban, summed up his hot-headed nature.
The same right hand with which he sportingly caught a ball to allow an opponent treatment, earning him a FIFA Fair Play Award, was later held rigidly aloft in celebration for Lazio to present what he insisted was a Roman salute, but one which to most of the human race looks dangerously Nazi.
19. Ashley Cole
Perhaps the greatest left-back of his generation, arguably the finest English full-back ever, a cap centurion with a dozen major winner’s medals, Cole was a thoroughly modern footballer. Sadly, this was reflected off the field, which is why he is arguably remembered by most as somewhat self-obsessed.
Having moved from Arsenal to Chelsea for a better wage, he revealed in his autobiography (released at age 25) that he had “almost crashed my car” in amazement at only being offered a rise to £55,000. Rechristened “Cashley”, he became the embodiment of entitlement, who married the girl-group singer before divorcing over his admitted unreasonable behaviour, who swore at police outside a nightclub, who was clocked at 104mph in a 50mph zone and blamed the paparazzi, who shot a work-experience kid with an air rifle.
18. Diego Costa
Given that Jose Mourinho is a manager who thrives on self-perceived enemies after backing himself into a corner, it only makes sense that his talisman during his second stint in charge of Chelsea was Diego Costa.
Many strikers love a battle with their marker, but few extract as much pleasure from it as Diego does: one biography is aptly titled “The Art of War”. Among the enemies Costa made during his time in London were Emre Can, Gareth Barry (!), the entire Arsenal defence and, with Shakespearean inevitability, Mourinho himself.
Few can brush off criticism quite like Mike Ashley. Uninterested in his fan protests, indifferent to scathing media reports, and ostensibly oblivious to the anger generated from the way he runs Newcastle United, Ashley is so brazen it’s almost admirable. Almost.
The Sports Direct entrepreneur paid around £134m to buy the Toon in 2007, and although it started well – necking beer with the fans, appointing Kevin Keegan – it rapidly went downhill amid cronyism claims, awful signings, unpopular sales and stadium rebranding. Although he may sell the club for the right price, don’t be surprised if a parsimonious transfer window helps send the Toon toward the third relegation under his reign.
16. Luis Suarez
The buck-toothed rapscallion attracts admirers and critics. On the positive side, he has been top scorer in Holland, England and Spain, the latter despite being up against Messi and Ronaldo. A league winner with Ajax and Barcelona, he almost single-handedly dragged Liverpool to their closest title attempt in a generation.
Then again, he has admitted to diving, his goal-line handball denied Ghana a historic passage to the World Cup semi-final, and he has been involved in biting incidents – biting incidents! – not once, not twice but three times. Oh, and been found guilty by the FA of racially abusing Patrice Evra.
15. Ken Bates
Former Oldham chairman Ken Bates bought Chelsea for a bargain-bucket £1 in 1982 and sold up to Roman Abramovich 21 years later for £140m. In between, he suggested erecting electric fences to deter hooligans, called a supporters’ group “parasites” and described the recently deceased club investor Matthew Harding as “evil”.
Beyond the Bridge, he was involved in rebuilding Wembley (“What they should hve done is shoot [Sports Minister] Kate Hoey”) before buying Leeds United in 2005. In 2007 the club were relegated to the third tier and went into administration; he bought them again and sold to Bahraini investors in 2012.
14. Joey Barton
It might seem like Barton has made it his life’s work to be on this list. Stubbing a cigar out in a youth player’s eye, being imprisoned for common assault and affray, attacking team-mate Ousmane Dabo and finally being banned from football for breaching gambling regulations have ensured his inclusion.
Barton is a complex character: a gay-rights campaigner and addiction-charity ambassador who enjoys displaying his recent academic endeavours via any platform possible – narky tweets, Question Time appearances or an autobiography which veered between acknowledging past misdemeanours and reeling off a list of poor excuses as to why they weren’t his fault.
13. Diego Maradona
Maradona was always both magic and manic, pinballing between moments of transcendent ability and incidents betraying a much darker undertow. The Mexico 86 quarter-final against England was an obvious example – a goal of sheer stupendous brilliance balanced by one of gob-smacking cheating.
But it’s not just the English who have seen both sides. A failed drugs test, on-pitch violence, and even booting a fan whilst coaching in the UAE are just some of his other offences that have led to a public image best described as questionable.
12. Karl Oyston
The Oyston family bought shares in local outfit Blackpool back in the 1980s, with Karl taking the reins from his mother Vicki in 1999. The Seasiders’ unlikely elevation to the Premier League in 2010, helped by investment from minority shareholder Valeri Belokon, seemed too good to last – and so it turned out.
Amid three relegations in six seasons, furious fans were threatened with libel and ended up boycotting the club. In November 2017, a High Court judge ruled that the Oystons must pay Belokon £31m after operating an “illegitimate stripping” of club assets. Only in 2019 have they finally gotten rid of their ugly overlords.
11. Bernard Tapie
Bernard Tapie certainly had an interesting 1993. He sold Adidas, which he had owned since 1990; he spent the first three months as Minister for City Affairs; and the Marseille team he owned won not just their fourth consecutive Ligue Un, but the newfangled Champions League in its altered format.
However, it quickly emerged that Tapie had offered players at Valenciennes – l’OM’s league opponents shortly before the Champions League final – bribes to take it easy. Tapie was sent to prison, Marseille were stripped of both titles and after further investigation were relegated to Ligue 2.
10. John Terry
An on-pitch warrior with an exceptional defensive repertoire, Terry was the living embodiment of Chelsea FC, which may be a reason why many other fans so enjoyed ‘that slip’ in the 2008 Champions League final. He made up for it four years later with a full-kit celebration despite being suspended for the 2012 showpiece; then assented to a 26th-minute guard of honour in his final Chelsea game.
Off the field, he was fined by the club after being one of four players drunkenly abusing Americans at a Heathrow hotel the day after 9/11. In 2010 he had his England captaincy removed by Fabio Capello after rumours of an affair with a team-mate’s partner; he won it back but then had it stripped again by the FA after being accused of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand. He was found not guilty in court; a subsequent FA inquiry, which found him guilty and banned him for four games, led to his international retirement.
9. Pete Winkelman
Wikipedia lists Winkelman’s occupation as ‘Property developer and football club chairman’ – two job titles that don’t engender much public sympathy separately, let alone together. The former pop-music executive first eyed football in 2000 when his consortium proposed a retail development in Milton Keynes to include a stadium, which was offered to several clubs for relocation.
The following year, Wimbledon chairman Charles Koppel took up the offer, saying the Dons were otherwise inevitably insolvent; the Football League and FA blocked the move but were overruled by an independent commission. The club moved to MK, to be forever mocked as Franchise FC; most fans switched to phoenix club AFC Wimbledon; Winkelman’s consortium bought the club from administration. By his own admission, when he proposed the move he “didn’t have a clue about football”. Few would disagree.
8. El Hadji Diouf
Some are born controversial, some achieve controversy, and others embrace it like a long-lost lover. Senegalese spit sensation El Hadji Diouf appeared to revel in being the pantomime villain. Deified in Dakar, he is largely remembered in British football for his antics rather than his achievements.
At Liverpool, he was accused of spitting at West Ham fans and Celtic supporters; cleared of the former, he admitted the latter and was banned and fined. Switching to Bolton, he spat at Portsmouth’s Arjan de Zeeuw and was again banned and fined. Other unproved allegations including racially abusing a ball-boy and taunting an opponent with a broken leg, and since retiring he has continued to bait former Anfield teammates Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.
7. Luciano Moggi
Juventus are the biggest, most popular and most successful club in Italy, blessed with wealth and talent. You wouldn’t think they’d need to cheat, but that’s exactly what happened in the middle of the last decade, under the aegis of Luciano Moggi.
His part in the infamous Calciopoli scandal – where he sought to influence a group of referees in high-profile Juventus games – and manipulation of the transfer market saw the Turin club relegated to Serie B and stripped of two league titles. Nor has he gone quiet since his 2006 downfall, writing numerous controversial newspaper columns and saying “A homosexual can’t fulfil the job of footballer. I wouldn’t put one under contract.”
6. Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo is eternally locked in two big battles: for footballing supremacy over Lionel Messi and for the best possible public perception. Can he make the world love him? It seems not: a pre-rehearsed ‘muscle man’ celebration in the 2014 Champions League final and his halt mid-celebration during Euro 2016 to check himself out on the big screen have done little to sway people’s opinion.
While his narcissism may put people off, you get the impression only someone so self-obsessed could push themselves to the heights Ronaldo has achieved. A sublime footballer as hard to love as he is easy to admire.
5. Richard Keys
Some people mellow as they age, but Keys appears to going in the opposite direction. Moving from the comfortable sofa of primetime breakfast show TV-am, he impressed as a safe (if hairy) pair of hands at Sky Sports for two decades.
All that collapsed with the publication of extensively misogynistic off-air comments. Keys resigned and apologised for the “prehistoric banter” but has since proven recalcitrant rather than remorseful, landing on his feet with a job at BeIN Sports and using social media to bait the public on divisive topics like the alleged underemployment of English managers.
4. Michel Platini
In a career of two halves, Platini went from being a gifted and gilded player to a divisive and derided administrator who ended up with a six-year ban from football. In boots, few could touch him – European Footballer of the Year three times in the early 1980s, he would have been unquestionably the world’s best player but for a certain D. Maradona.
Failing as France manager, he successfully led the World Cup 98 organisation and started to climb the greasy poles of power. Elected UEFA president in 2006, he got busy: financial fair play, a 24-team Euros, goal-line assistants, suggested homegrown quotas, the Euro 2020 roadshow, voting for Qatar 2022. When FIFA counterpart Sepp Blatter fell to a corruption investigation, the way to the top job seemed open – until he too was sleazebusted over a “disloyal payment”. Au revoir.
3. Harald Schumacher
In one poll to determine France’s most despised public figure, German goalkeeper Schumacher finished above Adolf Hitler. This white-hot hatred stems from a single incident – a horrific challenge in the 1982 World Cup semi-final – which to French eyes seemed the epitome of German superiority, smugness and sickening brutality.
With defender Patrick Battiston rushing through on goal, Schumacher simply smashed into Battiston forearm-first, knocking him unconscious and costing him several teeth in the process. The Frenchman was carried from the pitch and later slipped into a coma. In the post-match press conference, the victorious Schumacher, hearing of the dental damage, somewhat misjudged the severity of the situation by saying “If that's all that's wrong with him, I'll pay for the crowns.”
2. Jose Mourinho
To some, conflict is a by-product, whether embraced or endured. To others, it is vital, the stuff of life itself, the very reason for being. Mourinho began his coaching career by studying opponents in astonishing detail; he flourished by cultivating an image of the overachieving outsider; and it may well be that his success is tailing off as the ravages of constant friction take their toll on him, his players and employers.
He has never been afraid to be unpopular to the enemy, from the 2004 sprint down the Old Trafford touchline through the fan-shushing, quote-spewing first spell at Chelsea to the on-pitch theatrics at the Camp Nou in 2010.
He’ll never be welcomed to Catalonia, Merseyside or Casa Wenger. Increasingly, he started to alienate colleagues, from Kevin De Bruyne to Iker Casillas, to Eva Carneiro and Luke Shaw, while fans are now less receptive to his brand of reactive, defensive football. Is the man with a million enemies running out of friends?
1. Sepp Blatter
Back in 2013, FIFA president Blatter patronised his Oxford Union audience for their lack of knowledge: “You may think you know what FIFA is, what it does... A faceless machine, printing money at the expense of the beautiful game with me pulling the strings and laughing all the way to the bank. It’s not exactly that.”
As it turns out, that’s exactly what it was. Having taken well over a decade to completely unravel, Blatter’s web of lies fell apart spectacularly after FIFA awarded Qatar the 2022 World Cup. He may be well thought of outside Europe and the Americas, but prioritising profit over the betterment of the game is an irreversible sin, one which has left the game in a state that may take some time to repair.
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